For the first time in five years, motorcycles returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to race. The first-ever race at the speedway was actually a motorcycle event in 1909. With a field of motorcycles from manufacturers that included Indian, Excelsior, Harley-Davidson, Peugeot, NSU, Merkel, and Thor, the lightweight, five-to-seven-horsepower machines could reach top speeds of 65 mph and were challenged by the crushed-stone racing surface and the sharp rocks that could rather easily puncture the flimsy tires of that era.
Fast forward nearly a century later, and it was Valentino Rossi who won the inaugural MotoGP race in 2008, and Marc Marquez won the final three events at the famed speedway. The MotoAmerica series was welcomed to the Racing Capital of the World this weekend, where three Superbike races were the main event. All eyes were on Cameron Beaubier, who entered the weekend having won 13 of the 14 races this season. It was a rough weekend for the Yamaha rider, who crashed three separate times. He did rebound nicely with two podium finishes on Sunday, and clinched his 5th career Superbike championship.
Race 1 (Video Recap)
Bobby Fong rode through a rare opening by Beaubier and won Race 1 of Superbikes at the Brickyard on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Fong rode to his second victory of the season on the No. 50 M4 ECSTAR Suzuki, holding off the No. 32 Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha of Jake Gagne by .228 of a second at the finish. Lorenzo Zanetti rounded out the podium finishers on the No. 87 Warhorse HSBK Racing Ducati New York Ducati, 11.391 seconds behind Fong.
But the biggest story of the day was two falls during the race by runaway championship leader Beaubier, who ended up unclassified in the race after his second accident on the No. 1 Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha. It was just the second time in 15 races this season that Beaubier didn’t win, as Fong also triumphed June 28 at Road America when Beaubier hit a bump in Turn 1 and crashed.
Today’s dramatic race was halted twice by red flags for accidents, with subsequent restarts, putting extra miles on tires and extra strain on clutches and riders’ nerves. “It was tough at the end, with all of the heat cycles on those tires,” Fong said. “I felt like we did about 30 laps on those tires, with all of the warm-up laps. But we managed, and the bike ran good. Hopefully we continue the hard work tomorrow and finish the weekend strong.”
Beaubier’s lead was reduced to 83 points over teammate Gagne, who trailed by 103 points at the start of the day. Beaubier needs to lead by 75 points or more after both races Sunday to clinch his fifth MotoAmerica Superbike title and third in a row.
Race 2 (Video Recap)
Fong cruised to a 9.831-second victory over Beaubier in a race shortened to just 12 laps due to an early red flag. It was Fong’s third victory of the season. The margin of victory deceived, as Fong was under pressure from Jake Gagne’s No. 32 Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha until Gagne crashed on Lap 8.
“It’s good to be back up here,” Fong said. “It’s been a long year. I didn’t really have a game plan coming into the race. I talked to my coach, Josh Hayes, and he was like, ‘Man, you’ve just got to be relentless out there.’ I didn’t want to lead the whole thing again, but I just plugged away and put in my laps. The bike felt good. Kudos to everybody on the team.”
Pole sitter Toni Elias lost the front end of his No. 24 M4 ECSTAR Suzuki exiting Turn 15 on Lap 2. Fong, running second, just missed hitting the sliding Suzuki, which leaked oil on the track during the crash and triggered a red flag. Elias wasn’t able to restart, so Fong led the field into Turn 1 from his second starting spot and never trailed. Gagne bumped past Zanetti for second with an aggressive Turn 2 pass on Lap 2 and set sail for Fong.
Zanetti’s chances for a podium finish looked dashed two laps later when he ran straight past Turn 1 and rejoined the course in fifth, behind Fong, Gagne, Josh Herrin and Beaubier. Beaubier passed Herrin for third on Lap 7, with Zanetti later passing Herrin for fourth. Meanwhile, Gagne pulled to within eight-tenths of a second of leader Fong on Lap 8 – his closest gap since early in the race – when disaster struck in Turn 10. Gagne lost grip from his front tire and slid into the gravel trip. He climbed back on the bike and resumed, finishing seventh.
Gagne’s fall deflated the pressure on Fong, who cruised to the checkered flag. Zanetti closed to the rear wheel of Beaubier on the last lap, but Beaubier held him off to keep second by just .068 of a second at the finish. “I was just riding so timid,” Beaubier said. “I just wanted to bring this thing home for the crew. Hat’s off to Bobby – he was riding his butt off. And Zanetti, he caught me pretty good there at the end.”
Race 3 (Video Recap)
Zanetti earned his first career MotoAmerica Superbike victory by .196 of a second over Fong in a tense, 17-lap race. Former World Superbike racer Zanetti came to the series in August as a replacement rider for the injured PJ Jacobsen at Ridge Motorsports Park. Ducati Corse test rider Zanetti became the first Ducati rider to win an AMA/MotoAmerica Superbike race since Larry Pegram in 2010. Zanetti finished third Saturday.
“Compared to yesterday, I just tried to keep calm,” Zanetti said. “I managed the tire well, but in the end, I just compared to Bobby, so I just tried to go in front and get my rhythm because I struggled a bit in some corners. But that’s all right. I’m so happy for all.” Beaubier finished third after overcoming an electrical gremlin during the morning warm-up, which came after his team worked after midnight to rebuild his Yamaha after it was heavily damaged in two crashes Saturday.
Fong, who started third, got a strong drive off the line at the start and wasted no time passing teammate and pole sitter Elias for the lead, riding around Elias in Turn 10 on Lap 1. Zanetti dove under Elias in Turn 1 on Lap 3 to set up a head-to-head duel with Fong. Within two laps, Zanetti had pulled on the rear wheel of Fong and applied constant pressure. But Zanetti went a bit wide in Turn 1 on Lap 7, letting Elias slip under for second. But Zanetti returned the favor two laps later in Turn 2, passing Elias to regain second.
Zanetti clawed his way back to Fong’s rear wheel, and the tandem started to pull away from Elias, Gagne, Herrin and Beaubier. Zanetti continued to develop his rhythm on the fly and used setup changes on his bike after Saturday’s race to post a race-record lap of 1:36.825 on Lap 13 – a quicker lap than Elias’ pole time of 1:36.929 Friday.
That pace helped Zanetti pull to within one-tenth of a second of Fong at the start of Lap 15. Then Zanetti pounced for the top spot, diving under Fong in Turn 10 on Lap 15 for a lead he would not surrender. Beaubier, who dropped back to seventh at the start, completed his climb to the podium by passing teammate Gagne in Turn 1 on the final lap. He tried to close on Zanetti and Fong to create a three-bike train to the finish, but a bobble midway through the last lap ended any hope of racing for the victory.
Beaubier clinched his fifth overall MotoAmerica Superbike title and his third in a row despite an uncharacteristically quiet weekend. His finishes of 3rd in Race 1 and 2nd in Race 2 today were enough to seal the title after crashing out of Saturday’s race. “It’s been amazing,” Beaubier said. “I owe so much to my entire Monster Attack Yamaha crew. It was purely such a fun year being able to rack up as many wins as we did. This whole weekend definitely wasn’t easy on us. They were up at midnight fixing my bike after a few crashes. I went pretty much all year with one crash and threw the bike down three times this weekend. It was definitely testing us.”
The final three races on the 2020 schedule will take place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca from October 23-25.